When my marriage was falling apart, there were many things that annoyed me about my husband, but just two that relate to the topic at hand. First, there was “The Voice.” He had this way of talking to me that made me feel inferior and threatened.
And, I know. I know. According to psychologists, my husband can’t make me feel anything. He can’t control my feelings. They tell me that I make myself feel inferior and threatened when I hear The Voice. You know what I have to say about that? Poppycock. That Voice could threaten a Navy Seal. The power of it did not come from the words. Rather, the effect came from his tone and speed.
He might simply be asking me if I knew where his headlamp was, but he’d say it in this low, flat, icy, slow “I think you have the IQ of a Labrador Retriever” voice. When he asked, “Where is my headlamp?” I heard, “You stupid excuse for a wife. Why do you lose all of my stuff?”
Second, Mr. Strong and Silent could not admit wrong doing if I was holding a branding torch to his balls. I might complain, for instance, that he’d borrowed my car the night before and left it without a fume of gas. Instead of apologizing, he’d say, “Oh, come on. You had enough gas to get to a gas station.”
We’ve discussed both issues more times than I care to remember. Recently, I told myself that some things just weren’t going to change. If I was going to stay happily married to this man, I reasoned, I just might have to learn to love The Voice and his inability to say, “I’m sorry.” No one was perfect. It could be worse. He could be a nudist, for instance.
And then, just like that, I let someone borrow my tent. (I know this seems like a non sequitur. Bear with me). I hadn’t used it in years, so when Tina asked if she could borrow it, I said, “Why sure. You need a sleeping bag? I think I have one.” I found one of Mark’s. As far as I knew, he hadn’t used it since before my time. I gave her both.
Flash forward one week. Tina returns the tent and sleeping bag. I’m carrying both into the house. Mark sees me with said sleeping bag and says, in The Voice, “No! No-no-no! You do not let someone use my sleeping bag! No! Just no! Bad! That’s bad, bad bad! I am not happy.” I’m standing there, my body half way in the house, half way out. I’m staring at an adult man who seems to be having a temper tantrum. I realize that I probably should have asked him if it was okay for Tina to use the sleeping bag, but I’m also thinking that he should learn how to act his age. Is he 42 or 2? My God.
I drop both on the floor, look at my feet, say, “Um, sorry. I won’t let anyone borrow your sleeping bag again. Got to go.” I leave to meet my running partner, thankful for the very good excuse of why I can’t stand there and listen to him loudly say, “No!” for another 10 minutes.
As I drive to meet her, I think the usual string of unsavory things I usually think when I am piping mad. I think, for instance, that the world would be a better place if he would just tumble into a vat of quick sand. I run with Eileen, work off the stress and anger, and I feel a lot better. By the end of the run, I’m still annoyed by his behavior, but I no longer want him to die in the quicksand.
I get home. I do a little work. I go to a meeting. I wonder, “Maybe he’ll apologize?” Then reason sets in. “Of course he won’t apologize. He probably doesn’t even know I’m irritated with him. He’s probably completely forgotten about it by now. When I bring it up later, he’s not going to know what I’m talking about.”
I come home. There’s a message on my phone. I listen to it. It’s my husband. He says in a meek, quiet, soft voice, “Sweetie. I’m really sorry I was such a dumb ass this morning. Will you give me a call so we can talk about it?”
I don’t call him right away. What can I say? I’m gloating, and the victory dance lasts quite a while. But I do call. He says, “I know you didn’t know how important that sleeping bag was to me. I understand that there was no way you could know how far back it went, and that it can’t be washed.”
He is right. I didn’t know. I also didn’t know that a friend of his had once loaned a similar sleeping bag to a young couple who’d promptly copulated inside of it for two days straight. It apparently had never been quite the same. Who knew? I hadn’t.
“You really hurt my feelings,” I say, “But I’m so happy you apologized. I really appreciate it. It makes me feel really good.” And it really did.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.